It’s essential that chickens have access to plenty of clean, palatable water. During hot weather, it’s best to put the waterers in the same shady area that the chickens tend to hang out in. If it’s too hot, they’ll be reluctant to venture out of the shade to drink water.
If you had asked me 40 years ago what the best chicken waterers were, I would have directed you toward galvanized, two-part founts. These are what we used when we were raising chickens at that time. And in those days, the metal founts were well made, easy to use, and seemed to last forever.
Not so today.
Now all galvanized founts that I’ve seen are made of much lighter gauge metal. (If you come across a source for better metal chicken waterers, please let me know.) Whatever galvanization process they’ve undergone doesn’t last very long and doesn’t protect the metal very well. Soon after you start using them, the waterers begin to rust. And just a few spot welds now hold the handle to the top of the waterer. So carrying them by the handle when full isn’t a good idea, as the handle will eventually break off. And hanging them by the handle on a chain, which I used to do without any problems, to make a portable coop more portable, is out of the question. Today’s galvanized waterers are no longer built to last.
Plastic Water Founts
Instead, I use the plastic water founts made by Miller Manufacturing in all our coops (you may see these with the Little Giant brand name on them, too, but it’s the same waterer). These are available at nearly every feed store and various places online. They are fairly durable, and you can buy replacement lids and O-rings for them.
I recommend getting either the 3-gallon or the 5-gallon waterer. Though they make a 7-gallon model, it’s too heavy when full to move conveniently (water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon, so a 7-gallon fount that’s full weighs over 58 pounds).
A Potential Problem
One important thing to note about this type of poultry waterer: sometimes you will see recommendations to use Vaseline® to lubricate the O-ring. DON’T USE IT. Although vaseline makes the lid easier to screw on and temporarily improves the seal, it also acts as a solvent, which weakens and ruins the plastic lid. Soon the lid will break or become unusable if you use Vaseline®.
Instead, I’ve found that the moisture that naturally gets on the O-ring when I fill the waterers is usually adequate. You can also get a silicone-based lubricant online or from a plumber’s supply store that works well and won’t destroy the lid. (I learned about this problem and the silicone grease from Joe at ClabornFarms.com.)
There is another common type of plastic waterer that I don’t recommend. It is the type where the top fits into the base with just a partial turn. To fill them, you remove the base and flip them upside down. When you finish filling, you attach the base then flip it right side up. The problem is that the base falls off very easily, often dumping water on you, or at least drenching your shoes.
Automatic Waterers on a Low Pressure or Gravity Flow Supply
I don’t have any recent experience with automatic waterers that stay connected to a supply line. I use mostly portable housing, and hoses would get in the way. However, for some people, automatic waterers can make sense and be a time saver. The best ones I’ve seen are the orange, plastic bell-type waterers with a valve at the top. You connect them to a low-pressure water supply (either gravity flow or use a pressure reducer). When the water level gets low in the trough, a spring in the valve lifts the hanging bell slightly, and the valve opens to refill the trough. To clean the trough, simply lift the bell toward one side and dump out any debris.
Automatic bell waterer. Uses a low-pressure water supply.Claborn Farms uses a lot of these waterers, and has good results with them. The main problems that I know of are water lines getting leaks and valves breaking when it freezes in the winter.